Ugly Fans Just Suck
A few years ago, there was just a whole lot of sucking going on.
In every hockey rink throughout the CCHA, everyone sucks. Well, everyone says that someone sucks. The word itself, “sucks,” has become so commonplace that we no longer consider its public utterance especially shocking.
Of course, it’s not especially creative, either.
Oh, I suppose, somewhere back in the latter decades of the last millennium, some inventive fan responded with “…and they still suck!” when an announcer declared, “So-and-so’s at full strength.” Yes, it was probably even funny at first, as it was new and clever.
Now, though, fans are not content with hurling just one pseudo-sexual insult at players, fans, officials, or anyone else whom they dislike. No, in the heat of battle, fans now utter phrases so explicit that in some places, watching a game has gone from PG-13 experience to an I’m-not-bringing my-six-year-old-daughter-anymore embarrassment.
It was last season at Yost (there’s a surprise) when I first heard the word “c**ksucker” uttered in unison by hundreds of people. I learned last season at Bowling Green that opponents who head to the penalty box are, indeed, the b**ches of the student section.
And the random obscenities I heard during my first trip to Lawson Arena this year were enough to make even a grizzled old sportswriter like me blush.
I didn’t blush because I was shocked at the lewdness of what I heard. Like anyone who’s spent time in a press box, I’ve been known to transgress the potty-mouth line more than once.
No, what shocked and saddened me was the complete lack of thought that went into these “new” cheers. Are the students of our finest academic institutions so unoriginal, so lacking in creativity, so…dull?
It doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to steal from popular culture (from hip-hop and rap, actually). And it takes no brainpower whatsoever to scream obscenities.
The “new” profanity-laced chants are unimaginative, boring, and what was a more active endeavor — whipping up a crowd into a frenzy to both energize an arena and rattle an opponent — has become something completely passive and reactive, a primer on middle school behavior.
I remember a Fredonia State hockey game I attended in the 1980s (that’s SUNYAC, D-III for those of you who don’t know) where a group of students was taunting an opposing goaltender whose academic prowess was allegedly weak. I don’t recall the goalie’s name or his team, but one guy was yelling out, “Give me a __!” and the crowd responded with the called-for letter. At the end, he screamed, “What’s it spell?” and the students answered, in unison, “I don’t know! I play goal for _____!” It was hilarious — and effective, as the poor netminder was truly angry.
Where are the best minds of the younger generations? O, where art thou, leaders of the Class of 2003?
In the early 1980s, before the Carrier Dome was built, Syracuse University basketball was played in a great old arena called Manley Fieldhouse. Some of my high school friends and I went to games often. The Orange were really good, and the SU student fan section — the Zoo — was even better. It was there that I first heard the “ugly girlfriend” chant; hearing it revived in Yost last season brought back memories 20 years old.
I’m not glorifying the good old days. There were some nasty fans at those Syracuse games, fans who threw oranges onto the court, just as some idiot did at one of the Michigan games in the Schottenstein Center last weekend. Any behavior that can result in physical injury is just plain wrong.
But 20 years ago, if a fan shouted the kind of profanity we hear routinely in rinks today, he or she would have been escorted out of the building. That the current spate of obscene chants is tolerated in rinks is surprising. I wouldn’t bring a small child to many CCHA venues.
What surprises me even more, however, is the tolerance current student-fans have for the lowest common denominator. One would hope that current college students would prefer to be remembered as something more than unoriginal, uncreative, base, and boring.
It’s Not So Lonely Near The Top
While Michigan State seems to be running away with the conference, there’s a serious logjam near the top of the standings, with two teams tied for second, and four for third place.
For those of you playing along at home, remember that the top five teams host a first-round, best-of-three CCHA playoff series.
“I think that’s the way the conference is going to be all year,” says Nebraska-Omaha head coach Mike Kemp. “That’s what a conference race should be — teams fighting every night, standings changing game by game. That keeps the fans interested.”
UNO is one of four teams with 17 points, tied with Miami, Ohio State, and Northern Michigan.
The Mavericks have had an uneven season. Now 4-0-0 since Christmas, UNO went 2-6-0 in November, 5-2-1 in December, served No. 1 Michigan State its only loss, yet lost twice to the languishing Lakers and once to Notre Dame.
“We needed to get some consistency,” says Kemp, whose squad in December won every Friday night league game, then either lost or tied the following game. “I’ve been trying to figure it out. You always fall back on the easy and obvious, which is complacency from Friday night to Saturday night. There’s this expectation that the team you played Friday night is going to come and sit down on Saturday. It doesn’t happen that way, even though you’d like it to.”
Led by David Brisson (11-10–21) in scoring, the Mavericks now have the fourth-best scoring offense in the league (3.00 goals per game). In conference scoring, though, the Mavs are being outgunned 52-48, and the team still stands at minus-8.
“Guys are working hard, for the most part,” says Kemp, adding, “Part of the process of how we’re developing is that we’re a better team than we were a year ago.”
Last weekend, Nebraska-Omaha swept rival Bowling Green in Omaha, and home is where the wins are for the Mavs. “One of the things we’re doing right is that we have success at home,” says Kemp. “We have to maintain that, and we have to improve our performance when we get away from Civic Auditorium.”
The Mavs are in the middle of a home stretch that has some irony. Last weekend, UNO played Bowling Green, the team it eliminated in the CCHA play-in game last season. This weekend, Northern Michigan is in town for two; last year, the Mavericks’ Cinderella story picked up speed in Marquette, where UNO eliminated NMU in the first round of the league playoffs.
After Northern Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha hosts Michigan for two. The Mavericks beat the Wolverines in the CCHA semifinals last year.
Irony aside, it’s not an easy way to secure home ice. “It’s going to be a run to the finish. We’re involved in a sprint to the end here.”
Another team rounding that corner for the homestretch is Miami, a team that swept UNO earlier this season.
RedHawk head coach Enrico Blasi is as level-headed as they come. Miami began the season slowly, but picked up steam in November, and the ‘Hawks have been playing well ever since. “I think our plan has never changed from the beginning. We just kept working hard. You win a game, and all of sudden you have some confidence.”
November began with a loss and tie against Notre Dame, then two road wins over Bemidji State.
“We went to Bemidji State and we didn’t play well. It was good to win two, but it still wasn’t good hockey,” says Blasi. “Sweeping Nebraska and then Lake Superior helped solidify things.”
Since November, the RedHawks are 4-4-0, having won and lost against Western Michigan, swept Notre Dame, dropped two in holiday play, and most recently split with Ferris State on the road. Says Blasi, the two wins in South Bend were key. “I don’t know the last time Miami swept a CCHA team on the road.”
Blasi’s holistic approach to coaching is paying off in every area of Miami’s play. The RedHawks now have the third-best scoring offense in the league (3.36 goals per game), and the third-best defense (2.71 goals allowed per game). The Miami power play (.219) is third behind Michigan and Western Michigan.
The Miami offense is certainly benefiting from the return this season of Jason Deskins (12-10–22) and Gregor Krajnc (8-7–15). Pat Leahy (3-13–16) and Ernie Hartlieb (6-7–13), and defenseman Ken Marsch (0-7–7) are also part of the mix, especially on the power play. Two of Leahy’s three goals have been with the man advantage, and Hartlieb, Krajnc, and Deskins are the only three RedHawks with two game-winners each.
On the other end of the spectrum, the goaltending of David Burleigh (.906 SV%, 2.43 GAA) has solidified.
“This is a team game,” says Blasi. “Individuals look good if the plan is in place and the team sticks to the plan.”
Like Kemp, Blasi knows that the Miami is embroiled in a battle for league standings, but Blasi says — not surprisingly — that if the RedHawks look inward, success will follow.
“Right now it’s a mindset. It’s not about practicing anymore. It’s not about Xs and Os. It’s a matter of talking about it, of believing it. If we do everything as a team, we’ll give ourselves the best chance.
“The hay’s in the barn, so to speak, and now it’s time to play.”
For yet another team with 17 points, the key to success is discipline. “The biggest thing is staying out of the box,” says Ohio State head coach John Markell. “We do a better job of that when we’re moving our feet.”
The Buckeyes most recently split a home series with Michigan, with a solid win on Friday and an undisciplined loss Saturday. It’s a familiar pattern for OSU; the Buckeyes are now 1-6-1 on Saturdays following a Friday win.
“Any time you make a run like this, you have to consistent play from your upperclassmen, and your depth has to be effective,” says Markell. “If the third and fourth lines aren’t a factor and the first two are, then you don’t have depth. That factor may be in a checking role or a scoring role.”
With the return of Dave Steckel (9-8–17) and R.J. Umberger (6-10–16), the Buckeyes have their top two centermen and two lines that can definitely score. It’s those third and fourth lines, whose job it is to hold opponents’ better lines in check, where the discipline is most needed.
Markell says that another area in which the Buckeyes can improve is special teams. Ohio State’s power play in conference is effective just 16.5% of the time.
Markell says he’s encouraged with the improved play of the defense, and gives kudos to recruited walk-on Reed Whiting, who in four games has an assist and is plus-2. “He’s playing fine. He stepped into a tough situation, learning under the gun, and he’s doing a good job.”
One more note about Ohio State, lest fans get the wrong impression of the team: Thirteen Buckeyes posted GPAs of 3.0 or better for the fall academic term.
The fourth team tied with 17 points, Northern Michigan, just doesn’t seem to want to win a game. Now 6-5-5 in conference play, the Wildcats set a school record for ties in a single season with their sixth of the year against Alaska-Fairbanks Jan. 12 (4-4 OT).
That tie was only the second point ever that Northern Michigan conceded to Fairbanks. The Wildcats are now 10-0-2 all time against UAF, and the 3-0 win Jan. 11 marked the first shutout in the series.
With more rookies in the lineup than nearly any other team in the league, Northern Michigan’s inability to break out is not surprising. For the first time in years, the Wildcats are not dominating league scoring, averaging just 2.75 goals per game (seventh). Northern Michigan’s special teams are in need of help as well. It’s a good thing the Wildcats don’t take many penalties, as their PK is effective 79.2% of the time, while their power play limps along at 12.2%.
So what’s the predicted finish of these four teams? How’s this: Miami, Ohio State, Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Michigan.
Of course, my crystal ball has been known to cloud over, from time to time.
In case you haven’t heard, Ryan Miller really is all that.
Miller’s 2-0 blanking of Lake State last weekend was the 13th in the Spartan goaltender’s career, breaking Chad Alban’s (1995-98) school record for shutouts — and Miller’s only a sophomore. The 2-0 game was also his 11th shutout of a CCHA opponent, surpassing Alban’s school record of 10.
Miller has played 1,362 minutes this season, and leads the nation in both save percentage (.951) and goals against (1.28).
Stop The Presses!
The league’s top-scoring saint is now a sinner! Western Michigan’s Dave Gove made his first trip this season to the penalty box last weekend in the Broncos’ series with Notre Dame.
Gove wasn’t alone. Bronco Mike Bishai sat out Saturday’s game with a disqualification, and Steve Rymsha will miss this Friday’s game against Michigan.
Obviously, the Western offense can do more than just score.
And on that note, our hero, Nick Ganga, is in penalty trouble. Nick’s up to 40 minutes, with 12 games remaining.
We believe, Nick. I believe, anyway.
Games of the Week
If by some twist of fate Michigan State records losses two and three this weekend, one of these teams could jump to a tie for first place. Math is a wonderful thing.
No 7 Western Michigan (16-4-3, 9-3-3 CCHA) vs. No. 9 Michigan (16-6-3, 10-4-1 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, Mich.
By now nearly everyone knows of Western Michigan’s reversal of fortune. Last season, the Broncos barely made the playoffs; now they’re chasing first place.
Nothing illustrates just how far the Broncos have come like this weekend’s series between Western and Michigan. Last season, it was the Wolverines who eliminated Western in the first round of CCHA tournament play, and now the Broncos are ranked ahead of Michigan in the USCHO.com Poll.
Both teams are coming off weekends they’d like to have over. Michigan split on the road with Ohio State, and Western lent Notre Dame credibility by taking just one point in a two-game series in South Bend.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that we didn’t get more points than we did in the Notre Dame series,” says Bronco head coach Jim Culhane. “But they played very well. Give a lot of credit to Dave [Poulin] and his players.”
Culhane says that rather than the Broncos underestimating their opponent, “They really outworked us on Friday night and deserved a victory.” He added that the Joyce was packed in the second game. “It was like playoff hockey on Saturday. It was an intensely emotional game.”
It was apparently emotional all weekend. The two teams earned 66 penalty minutes Friday and 82 Saturday. Before heading to South Bend, Culhane says he warned his team about “not having success down there, about it being a difficult environment to play in.”
Culhane says the three-point Notre Dame weekend says something about the parity in the league. “Regardless of where anyone is in the league standings, anyone can beat anyone.”
He also noted that this weekend marked the first time anyone’s played a completely healthy Notre Dame squad with a full roster. “They’re a good team, much better than their record.”
This weekend, the Broncos and Wolverines exchange home games, and Culhane sees the game in Yost as a “challenge.” He should. Michigan leads this all-time series 44-22-9, 26-9-2 in Ann Arbor. In Lawson, the series is closer, with Michigan’s lead 16-11-7.
Three Broncos have point streaks on the line against Michigan, but one — Steve Rymsha — will have to wait a game to try to continue. Mike Bishai has points in nine straight games, Rymsha has points in eight, and rookie-of-the-year frontrunner Jeff Campbell has a seven-game point streak going.
The high-powered Bronco offense is outscoring opponents 100-67 this season, and 38-19 in the third period. Western Michigan scored 105 goals total last season.
So you know Bishai, Gove, Rymsha, and Campbell, but what about Andy Townsend? The Bronco defender has 10 assists in 23 games this season, and is among the league’s plus-minus leaders (+15).
Wolverine Andy Hilbert has a point streak of his own on the line this weekend (12 games), and Geoff Koch recorded his first three-point game of the season in Michigan’s 6-2 win over Ohio State Saturday.
When OSU’s Miguel Lafleche scored at 1:42 of the second period on Jan. 12, it was the first goal Michigan had allowed in 149:45. Netminder Josh Blackburn owned 141:42 minutes of the stretch.
Both the Broncos and Wolverines have 21 points in league standings, four behind Michigan State. The glut of teams near the top is “wonderful for our league,” says Culhane. “It’s great for college hockey and fans in the CCHA.”
So is this series.
Pick: Michigan 4-3, Western 4-3
Grudge of the Week
It’s a rivalry that has nothing to do with the whole state of Michigan.
Ohio State (11-10-1, 8-10-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (5-16-4, 3-10-3 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, Ind.
Two schools where football rules. Two young coaches hired the same year. And they’ll meet again for two more games in two weeks.
OK, OK, so it’s not the most compelling rivalry — on the surface. You have to watch these two teams play to know how much they really dislike each other.
Notre Dame leads this all-time series 20-12-3, but Ohio State is 3-2-0 against Notre Dame in the last five, and 7-3-0 in the last ten meetings. Since the Irish returned to the CCHA in 1991-92, Notre Dame holds a 13-8-2 advantage.
Last season, the two teams split a pair of games in Columbus, exchanging a pair of 2-1 wins. In December of 1998, it was Notre Dame that helped Ohio State say goodbye to the old OSU Ice Rink. The Buckeyes beat the Irish in a two-game set to complete a near-perfect year in the old barn; in 1999, Ohio State did not lose a game in the teeny, tiny, bird-infested, low-ceilinged old rink.
Notre Dame took three of four points from the fifth-ranked Western Michigan last weekend, holding an offense that averages more than four goals per game to just four goals on the weekend, including two power-play tallies. Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over Western Michigan on Jan. 12 was the first for the Irish against a ranked team since Dec. 4, 1999 when Tony Zasowski shutout at then-No. 5 Michigan State.
The 4-1 win on Friday night also snapped a 10-game home winless (0-9-1) streak for the Irish.
The Buckeyes were true to form by beating Michigan Friday, then losing 6-2 Saturday. Ohio State is 1-6-1 when scoring two or fewer goals. The Buckeyes are also 1-6-1 on Saturdays following a Friday-night win.
The Bucks have won the opener in seven of eight two-game conference series this season (6-2-0).
Four points separate last-place Notre Dame from Alaska-Fairbanks, the team in sole possession of whatever place comes after the four-way tie of Miami, UNO, OSU, and Northern.
Notre Dame is healthy and confident. Ohio State has Umberger and Steckel back.
Pick: Ohio State 4-2, Notre Dame 5-4